Human rights lawyer in Israeli prison goes on hunger strike

Salah Hamouri (Abbas Momani - AFP)

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian  /  September 28, 2022 

Salah Hamouri stages protest against being imprisoned without charge for the last six months.

A prominent Palestinian-French human rights lawyer has gone on hunger strike in protest against his imprisonment without charge by Israeli authorities for the last six months.

Salah Hamouri, 37, a father of two from occupied East Jerusalem, has been held in administrative detention since 7 March, and his detention order has been renewed until at least early December based on undisclosed evidence.

Along with 29 other people held in administrative detention in prisons around Israel, Hamouri on Sunday began an open-ended hunger strike to protest against the Israeli practice, which is routinely used against Palestinians who are subject to Israel’s military, rather than civil, justice system.

Negotiations with Israeli officials on Wednesday did not yield results, a member of the #JusticeforSalah campaign said. The human rights lawyer has been moved to a 2 x 2 sq metre isolation cell in Hadarim, a maximum security prison.

Administrative detention in Israeli military law allows suspects’ arrest for renewable six-month terms without charge or access to the evidence against them, on the grounds that he or she may break the law in future.

Israel says the measure – which is also practiced by the Palestinian Authority – is necessary for foiling terrorist attacks and to avoid revealing sensitive intelligence sources. Rights groups allege it is used excessively by Israeli authorities and denies individuals the right to due process.

According to the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer, where Hamouri works, 743 Palestinians are being held in administrative detention, the highest number for six years.

Hamouri has been imprisoned by Israel on several previous occasions, including serving a seven-year sentence between 2005-11 for his alleged role in a plot to assassinate a chief rabbi.

After maintaining his innocence during three years of pre-trial detention, he eventually took a plea bargain on the advice of his lawyer in order to avoid a 14-year-sentence or deportation to France, which would most likely mean losing his Israel-issued Jerusalem residency.

In 2016, his pregnant wife, the French national Elsa Lefort, was deported after arriving at Tel Aviv’s airport and given a 10-year entry ban. She and the couple’s two young children live in France, and have not been allowed to visit or even speak to Hamouri on the phone since he was detained in March.

“Salah has never stopped being vocal about the occupation. He is always speaking at events in France and tours, talking about the conditions of political prisoners and other violations,” said a spokesperson for #JusticeforSalah.

“Treating him like this is a way to try and silence him, to break him, and send a message to other human rights defenders.”

Of the four legal cases Hamouri is fighting, one is of particular concern to rights organizations: in a legal first, the lawyer’s Jerusalem residency was revoked in October 2021 on the grounds of a “breach of allegiance” to the Israeli state, based on secret evidence. A final hearing in the residency case is scheduled for February 2023.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The last high-profile Palestinian hunger strike involved the Islamic Jihad member Khalil Awawdeh, who almost died after going without food for nearly six months. He ended his strike in August after Israel agreed to release him when the administrative detention order expires on Sunday.

Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian